The PGA Championship has rolled into Harding Park like so much heavy fog. For the very first time, the major is ready for primetime broadcast. The one thing in these — narrator voice here — uncertain times we can bank on is that the ratings will be solid for CBS, which has posted stellar figures in each of the last eight weeks since golf's return.
Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, sees the positive handwriting on the wall and forecasted some crooked numbers during a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
"I think more people are obviously watching television in the evening than they are during the day," he said. “And I think it's going to be a really good showcase for the PGA Championship. Primetime golf is very rare as you know. I think this will be terrific from ratings standpoint and a branding standpoint and a positioning standpoint for the PGA of America."
This is great, of course, for those at the network and advertisers. But what about the fans at home who, as a wise person once said, won't have their lives changed much either way by a specific viewership metric? What's in it for them?
Well, quite simply ... more golf.
McManus revealed that half of the network commercial breaks will be of the two-box variety with Eye on the Course bringing continuous action. Viewers have been seeing more and more of this over the summer but never before has the percentage been near the 50 percent mark.
And that's good. In my opinion, being able to see more of the action as opposed to a blood-pressure medicine commercial is a better experience — and I'll argue as such in this essay.
Jim Nantz, like McManus, brought some math to the call, positing the move could result in 35-40 more televised shots per hour, which could mean over 400 or so over the combined 12 hours of weekend coverage.
"You start adding up how many shots you're going to be able to see, now that you don't normally have to come back to and get behind on tape, that you're going to be able to show people live, start multiplying that by a two-and-a-half minute window. That’s a tremendous benefit to us."
So a win for CBS, a win for viewers, and a seeming push for advertisers are being forced to confront what the future of live sports commercialization looks like. But here's where the fly in the ointment comes in for someone who wants to look down the road.
Conditioning fans to expect more live coverage of on-course action is only going to make the annual Masters content desert more dehydrating. More can't be good if less isn't inherently worse. And yes, that's a simplification in the face of the obvious unicorn nature of the Augusta event. Complaining that shots of Butler Cabin are guarded like a stuffy inheritance is an annual tradition that no one expects to change but it doesn't mean things couldn't be better if a few power-broking buttons were unfastened.
Decision-making on the presentation of majors will come fast and furious as the sport enters a brave new world. Nantz was downright excited for the incredible flurry of activity golf will navigate through over the next year.
“No other sport can say this right now except for us: We are about to enter the greatest stretch of golf in the history of the game,” he said. “Starting on Thursday, in an 11-month stretch, we are going to have seven major championships. We are going to have the playoffs. That includes two Masters, two PGA Championships, the Players Championship."
“The world of golf is entering a stage here in San Francisco that the sport will never see again, and I don’t know that any other sport will ever see a condensed, compressed window of high-stakes like this sport is about to embark on,” he added.
Hope you like birdies and bogies for lunch. And dinner. Because there's an awful lot in the pantry we need to eat up before it spoils. Which, of course, could happen at any time.